“Ninety-eight bottles of milk on the wall, ninety-eight bottles of milk! Take one down and pass it around, ninety-seven bottles of milk on the wall!”
Mommy laughed as Daddy and I sang as loud as we could. “Goodness, how much longer until we get to the beach house?” she asked as she looked back at me.
“We just started the trip! We’ve got hours to go before we get there,” Daddy said, then turned and winked at me. “It’s our song, right, sweetheart?” He smiled, the sun shining on his hair, and I smiled back.
Suddenly, Mommy started to scream, and Daddy turned back to the road. Loud sounds from outside caused me to look out the window. Cars were driving all wrong. One was coming right toward us. “Oh my God! Oh my God! Frank!”
I closed my eyes and didn’t open them, even when I felt everything flying in the car and hitting me. Mommy screamed again, then everything stopped, and I couldn’t hear her anymore. At least until I heard another lady screaming and loud voices all around me.
“Call 911! Someone, call 911!”
“You need to get your little girl out of the car!”
Someone grabbed me, and I cried out. “Mommy!”
“Do not open your eyes, Timberlynn,” Daddy whispered as he took me from my seat. “Do you hear me? Keep them closed.”
I nodded and buried my face in his chest. “I won’t. I pwomise.” With my eyes closed tight, I slapped my hands over my ears, hoping all the loud noises would stop.
Daddy wrapped his arms tightly around me. “Don’t do this. Please don’t take her from us! God, please. I need someone to take my daughter! Please, I need to help my wife!”
Daddy moved me, and I was placed in someone else’s arms. I instantly cried out. “Daddy, no! Please don’t leave me! No!”
He stopped and looked back at me. “Timberlynn, I need to go get your mommy out of the car.”
My eyes drifted past Daddy and I looked at our car all bent and out of shape. “Daddy?” I yelled as a woman’s voice called, “Go! I’ve got her. Get her out of the car!”
“Daddy!” I shouted again as I watched him run to the car.
“It’s okay, sweetheart. Shh…your mommy and daddy are fine. Just close your eyes
I didn’t listen to the stranger. I watched as Daddy ran to our car. It was the wrong way up. The wheels…I could see the wheels. Another man, a policeman, helped Daddy get Mommy out of the car. Then Daddy screamed so loudly, making both me, and the stranger holding me, jump.
“Oh, no,” the stranger whispered and quickly turned me away from Daddy. She looked at me and smiled. “Your name is Timberlynn?”
I started to cry harder, but I nodded.
She smiled and wiped the tears from my face. “It’s going to be okay, Timberlynn. It will all be okay.”
I looked past her and saw Daddy on the ground, Mommy sitting in his lap. She was bleeding, and he was crying as he rocked her. Why wasn’t she getting up to come get me? I tried to run to him, but the strange lady held onto me tightly.
“It’s okay, Timberlynn. It’s okay.”
She buried my face into her chest, and even at my young age, somehow I knew she was not telling me the truth. That nothing would be okay. It would never be okay again.
I sat on Trigger and stared out over the open pasture as I got ready to rope with Chance. You could almost feel the winter storm about to come in and blanket the distant Colorado mountains with snow. Right now they had patches of snow that only hinted that it was winter. My body ached to be home, though. To see the Montana mountains I had grown up in and loved so much. I sighed and looked down.
My ankle ached ever so slightly, and I rotated it completely out of habit. I’d broken it months back when I jumped off Trigger and landed wrong after winning the final round in Tulsa. I had taken some time off of roping after that to let it heal and stayed at my folks’ ranch back in Montana. It wasn’t anything that kept me from roping, though, and I could have easily pushed through the pain, but I needed that break. It was more of a mental break than a physical one, even if I didn’t want to admit it to myself back then. And now I yearned for the Montana skyline to be replaced by this Colorado one.
With a deep inhale, I took in the crisp winter air. The sun would be sinking behind the mountains soon, ending another night out on the road. A strange feeling of yearning hit me once again, and I couldn’t shake it. What was it that was making me feel this way lately? This longing to be home wasn’t anything new, that’s for sure. I loved being home on the ranch, but roping had always been my passion. At least, it had been up until my brothers all started to settle down and work with my father on the ranch. I missed them so damn much lately, and tonight it seemed that there was something else I was missing as well. I couldn’t put my finger on it, even though I tried. That pissed me off and made me feel less in control. Control was what kept me on that horse and kept me winning on the circuit. Not being in control meant my life and my career were both at the mercy of fate…and I didn’t like that one damn bit.
The sound of the crowd from the arena usually got me fired up, sparking that side of me that yearned for the chase, begged for the adrenaline rush, but not today. I’d been feeling off for the last month, and I knew Chance, my roping partner and best friend, could sense it. Truth be told, neither one of us had been ourselves for a while, and neither of us would admit that our hearts had been somewhere else other than roping.
“Tanner?” Chance asked.
“Yeah, sorry, I was taking a minute,” I said as he rode up next to me and stopped. He stared out at the same scene I had been captivated by only moments ago.
“Is your head in this ride, dude?” Chance’s voice sounded strained.
“My head’s in it. Yours?” I asked, motioning for Trigger to turn and face Chance. Trigger was my five-year-old gelding I’d bought when he was three from a friend of my father’s for five-hundred dollars. Never dreamed he’d turn out to be such an amazing horse when I first broke him. He was cowy, meaning he could watch a cow come out of the shoot and stay on it like no one’s business. We were a perfect fit, and he was one hell of a horse. With Trigger, I had four Wrangler NFR Qualifications and one World Championship as a header. This coming year I had a feeling we would be on top again if Chance and I stayed healthy, didn’t break our damn necks, and got our shit together. Three months ago, it had been pretty much all I had thought about. Winning another championship. Then everything seemed to shift when I had gone home for my brother Ty’s wedding. That was the day I had met her.
I glanced back to Chance and waited for his response. He paused, and it spoke volumes.
Chance rubbed the back of his neck. “Honestly? No, I ain’t in it. Not at all. I think it’s the end-of-the-year shit. Or maybe she’s still in my head. I don’t really know.”
I nodded because I had no clue what to say to him. It had been a long year for both of us. Chance and I had been best friends for as long as I could remember. It hadn’t been a surprise to anyone when we started roping together. The two of us were the male version of Forrest Gump and Jenny’s peas and carrots. We just worked together so well. Me the header, Chance the heeler. And we were good. Damn good. When we had our shit together, that is. This year, hell, this year had been a challenge for both of us, though, and we had been tested a lot.
Chance had found himself in love, and I had found myself without my best friend for the first time in years. Not that I wasn’t happy for him, mind you, because I was. He had met a girl, fell for her, asked her to marry him, and without another word, she left him. Just like that. Left him for some city slicker guy who promised her the moon and stars under the bright lights of New York City. I think a part of Chance knew she would never have been happy with him on the road as much as we were now. It takes a strong-ass woman to handle a man being on the road for months at a time, knowing the temptations that we are faced with on a daily basis. The damn buckle bunnies were in abundance, no matter the venue or the city. That was the name given to women who prowled around rodeos looking to hook-up with the cowboys, especially those who won buckles. Some of them had even been known to steal the buckles as some sort of trophy.
“You’re better off without her, you know,” I finally said after we both sat there in silence for a good minute or two.
He sighed. “Yeah, I know. Still fucking hurts, though.”
“You sayin’ you want a longer break than just Christmas?” I asked, already knowing his answer. Hell, I was hoping for the same answer I wanted to hear.
“It was a rough year last year. Your ankle injury and all. My whole…I’m in love…debacle. I know we haven’t missed a New Year’s Eve Buck & Ball before, but I feel like I need some time off, Tanner. I’d like to just be home with my folks, spend some time with the family. Help my dad out on the farm. Just…take a few weeks’ break, maybe even a month.”
I let a small chuckle slip through. Chance gave me a slight smile because I’m positive he knew I was feeling the same way.
“Maybe we both need a break,” I said as I looked back at the arena. “You thinking what, Alexandria, then we head back out on the circuit? That gives us a good month at home.”
A look of relief crossed his face, and I couldn’t help but wonder if there was something more to this break than what Chance was telling me. He looked at me as if he was thinking the same damn thing about me. “I’m good with that. It gives the horses a break as well. I’m sure Banker wouldn’t mind being turned out for a bit.”
He leaned over and gave his horse a pat. Banker bobbed his head as if agreeing with Chance. Hell, this life we were living was hard on everyone involved, including the horses.
Just then, the crowd grew louder and cheers could be heard. A small spark of excitement filled me, though not for the normal reasons. This time, I’d be going back home soon, and that was enough to get me excited about the ride.
Chance looked back toward the arena before he focused on me once more. “I think we need to give them all something to talk about when we’re finished tonight. You in?”
I nodded. “I agree. Let’s leave with a big fuckin’ bang and win this round.”
Chance and I made our way to the arena. Trigger always got antsy when we were in the box waiting for them to turn the steer out. I could practically feel his body vibrate from the excitement of going after the cow, and I knew exactly how he felt.
My heart thundered in my chest as we waited for the steer to be loaded up. Once I got Trigger where I wanted him, I gave the nod and the steer was off. He was hardly out of the shoot, and Trigger had just broke the line before I roped his horns and I saw Chance’s rope sail down toward the back feet. Next thing I knew, we were facing each other and Chance was pumping his fist like a mad man, causing Banker to buck slightly from his rider’s crazy antics. Chance then tossed his hat in the air. I watched in shock, wondering why in the hell he was spooking his horse like he was. Banker was a gentle gelding; he didn’t like a lot of show and Chance knew that. Even the crowds cheering could hit him wrong sometimes. If we had a good ride, Chance knew to hold it in until he dismounted. It had been a good run, but he was acting like a damn fool. But then, my eyes moved to our time. Three-point-five seconds. Holy shit.
Three. Point. Five.
We had just tied the arena record. The world record time was three point four. Only three other teams had achieved that score, and this had been the closest we’d ever come. Three point six had been our team best previously.
The crowd in the arena went wild. The next thing I knew, the cameras were in our faces, buckles were in our hands, and we were giving interviews left and right. Neither one of us mentioned to the media the break we had intended on taking, though. There was no need to, not when we were riding the high of winning. Not to mention, it was a nice payday for both of us, so that kept the high even higher for a while.